The 45th edition of the iconic NYC marathon—one of the most prestigious races in the world—came to a successful close on November 1, with Kenyans Mary Keitany and Stanley Biwott romping home with dazzling wins. A total of 50,000 runners took to the streets along with the winners in Big Apple, in an event which has grown tremendously since the first Central Park race saw 55 finishers. Over the years, the NYC Marathon has collected some unique stories and runners; here are five of the most dazzling ones.
In 1976, year of the US Bicentennial celebration, New Yorkers George Spitz and Fred Lebow dreamt of transforming the city’s marathon and coursing it through city streets so that runners and spectators alike could cheer on and celebrate the occasion. The mindblowing success of this re-routing through New York City’s five legendary boroughs – Queens, Manhattan, Bronx, Brooklyn and Staten Island – was immensely successful and the marathon remains one of the best city running experiences ever since.
The start of the marathon is signaled unfailingly each year by a cannon shot and Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” blasting from the loudspeakers. Another musical fun fact: since 1979, the Bishop Loughlin High School band has been playing the Rocky theme song, “Gonna Fly Now” every single year at Mile 9, over and over again, till the last runner passes by.
The steepest and longest incline of the marathon comes right at the beginning with the Verrazano Bridge, which slopes 136 feet upward. Brooklyn, with its largely flat terrain is the fastest borough for runners; the average speed here is 8:14 minutes per mile. One of the toughest and most challenging points on the course is the steep Queensboro Bridge around miles 16 and 17. Since no spectators are permitted to hang about here, this stretch is also the most silent.
Over the years, the marathon has seen some unique participation stories. In 2014, Brooklyn’s Kathering Singluff became the race’s one-millionth finisher; she received a shopping voucher for marathon gear and guaranteed race entry for life. Funnily, she herself didn’t know this till the New Yorker contacted her for a story. Meanwhile, the marathon in 1986 is remembered for its last place finisher. Bob Weiland, a Vietnam veteran, reached the finish line after 4 days, 2 hours, 47 minutes and 17 seconds. Weiland had lost his legs 17 years ago on duty, and he completed the entire course using just his hands and arms to propel himself forward.
In 2009, Meb Keflezighi became the first American to win the New York City Marathon since Alberto Salazar in 1982; he’s been trying to repeat the feat ever since. Meanwhile, Norwegian marathoner Grete Waitz won the legendary marathon nine times in the 10 years between 1978 and 1988—more than any runner in history. Three of these wins were also new world records in marathons.